[b-hebrew] Tense

Rolf rolf.furuli at sf-nett.no
Sat Dec 15 06:06:55 EST 2012

Dear list-members,

In the last two weeks John Cook and I have had some interactions. I have sent three posts that Cook has not commented upon, and that is of course his privilege.

Because Cook introduced his review of my dissertation to the list, I think I have the right to make some comments on this review, for the benefit of those reading it. I note that he does not expresses a single positive word regarding my work, and I am put in the same category as  Andrason from Stellenbosch, who is "naive" and who "has no clear grasp of the Hebrew data." This is particularly evident in the last clauses of Cook's review. A review must of course be short, and that may be the reason why Cook in several instances misrepresents me and do not tell the readers what the dissertation actually says. I shall not bother the list-members with details, which I of course am ready to give. But I will make some comments on one issue where Cook uses the same strong language that he uses on his blog.

One of my basic approaches he says is "absurdly unrealistic!" I cannot recall that I ever have seen such a strong condemnation one scholar's work in another scholar's review of this work. What is the issue in connection with this condemnation? I have not any exact statistics, but I think that of the 14.500 WAYYIQTOLs, at least 10.000 occur in narratives. These narrative WAYYIQTOLs, and other WAYYIQTOLs have past reference, but this past reference do not tell us  whether these WAYYIQTOLs represent past tense, the perfective aspect or the imperfective aspect. My argument was that because the nature of these WAYYIQTOLs with past reference is not transparent, the great number of past references do not prove that WAYYIQTOL represents past tense or is perfective. On the other hand, if we have a reasonable number of WAYYIQOLs whose nature is transparent, and we can see that they have non-past reference or imperfective characteristics, that would  be positive evidence against the pas
 t tense/perfective view. 

Why is this reasoning "absurdly unrealistic," according to Cook? He says: "However, taking such an approach to an ancient, composite text in which differences among forms were preserved through a long oral tradition before being preserved ortho-graphically is absurdly unrealistic!" Firstly, we know nothing about a long oral tradition, and we cannot say that a conclusion is absurd on the basis of something we know nothing about. Secondly, we have to deal with the written text of the Tanakh alone; to base one's conclusions on that which is supposed to have been before the written text is really special pleading. Thirdly, I do not fail to problematize the situation where a great number of positive factors (93.1% of WAYYIQTOLs with past reference) cannot be accepted as evidence, but a small number of contradictory factors (6.9% of WAYYIQTOLs with non-past reference) can be used as evidence. (BTW, This accords with Carl Popper, "The Logic of Scientific Discovery," 1980). The concl
 usion of this preblematization is that if a reasonable number of transparent WAYYIQTOLs have non-past reference, the WAYYIQTOL cannot represent past tense. And further, if a reasonable number of transparent WAYYIQTOLs have imperfective characteristics, the WAYYIQTOL cannot represent the perfective aspect. In the tables of the dissertation, 1,402 WAYYIQTOLs which have a bearing of on the issue, are discussed. 

I find it interesting that two of the three posts where Cook has not given any comments, have a bearing on my "absurdly unrealistic" conclusion. The assumption Cook builds on when he draws a conclusion diametrically opposite of my conclusion, is that because the preferred form for past narrative is  WAYYIQTOL, this form grammaticalizes past tense. However, Cook contradicts his own assumption in his comments on the Phoenician Karatepe inscription, when he admits  the verb form preferred for Phoenician past narrative does not grammaticalize past tense. If the preferred narrative form in Phoenician is not grammaticalized past tense, the preferred Hebrew form needs not be grammticalized past tense. In one post that Cook has not commented upon, I appeal to the Ugaritic evidence. In the narrative account of the Saga of Keret, particular roots in the YAQTUL conjugation were used. Before this, there is a mirror account with future reference where the same roots in the YAQTUL conjugat
 ion are used. (We find the same use of YAQTUL throughout the Ugaritic documents.) This shows that the form preferred for a past narrative in Ugaritic needs not grammaticalize past tense. So, in view of the Phoenician and Ugaritic evidence, my conclusion regarding the Hebrew WAYYIQTOL may not be absurd after all.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli

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